VANCOUVER -- Health authorities on Vancouver Island have announced new limits on visitation at health-care facilities in their jurisdiction because of COVID-19.

Island Health announced Saturday that it is now allowing only "essential visits" at its facilities in order to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Essential visits are defined as those involving patients who are critically ill, receiving end-of-life care or frail and in need of an escort or family member for their safety, Island Health said.

Even then, the health authority said, visits will only "be considered" in those cases. Not everyone who wants to visit a patient who meets one of those criteria will be allowed to do so.

"Eligible essential visitors must pass important screening criteria," Island Health said in its announcement. "This means they cannot have a cough, runny nose, fever, sore throat or shortness of breath, and they cannot have travelled outside of Canada in the last 14 days."

"We understand the importance of visits from family and loved ones to our patients and long-term care residents and we appreciate your understanding and support in helping to keep everyone safe," the agency said.